Splash-Pod: the Personal Water Park

The record Texas heat wave of 2011 sent me reeling back into my childhood filled with memories of escaping the heat with home-made water toys. In an effort to create similar memories for my daughter, friends, and family, I set on an adventure to create a unique water toy for all to enjoy.

Members of Instructables, I present to you; Splash-Pod: The Personal Water Park.

Inspiration, planning, procurement, construction and thoughts.Or... how a simple idea can lead to hair-loss, sleeplessness and borderline obsession.

My daughter loves the water. No, to be more accurate, she loves getting wet. Splashing, dunking, squirting, spraying and puddle-stomping are all highly regarded activities in her little world. We first discovered this when she was 8 months old and would refuse to get out of the bath until the water was cold; she was too busy playing. My wife and I happened to see a "water-activity table" toy from one of the major toy companies on sale at Target last Summer. It was basically a plastic table with a few spinning wheels and some empty cups. She suggested that it would be a great toy for our mer-baby. Being the tinkerer that I am, I immediately thought - I could build something far better. And so I offered this idea to the better half: Why spend $80 on a plastic table that just sits there when I could build a table that's 50 times more interactive and fun at half the cost.Let this go down as mistake #1.

She agreed and we passed on the toy. The idea was planted in my brain and one year later we have the final result, which I've named Splash-Pod: The Personal Water Park. I hope that you enjoy the Instructable as much as I had writing it (nervous laughter). Well, I hope, at least, that you can make it through this giant write-up.

I have three goals for this instructable. They are:

Please feel free to ask any questions as I will do my very best to stick around to quickly answer them.

My muse came from multiple sources, some of them obvious and others fairly obscure. Many of you have seen the commercial water-activity tables for sale at Toys R Us or Target. We've all seen the images of joyful tots cooling off in the spray of a busted fire hydrant, and most of us remember running through sprinklers on a hot summer day. It is now a common sight for public fountains to have jets of water intended for child activity. Even major water parks often have interactive toys such as tipping buckets, fire hoses and rain showers for the smaller kids. Then there is the simple joy of spraying a garden hose all over the yard. All of these are incredibly fun activities that I wanted to incorporate into this toy - somehow.

I just needed a platform; the foundation of the project. This problem ran through my head for months as I tried out various ideas. Common wood construction methods availble to the layman (me) were too ugly and welded steel would be too heavy and also really freaking ugly.

Enter Popular Mechanics June 2011 issue; specifically the article titled "How to Build a Marble Top Coffee Table." The article introduced me to the wonderful world of t-slot extruded aluminum, and was pointed at the massive product inventory at 80/20. I knew right away that I had the solution for my 'water-table' (as it was then known). From this point forward, everything began to fall into place.

The concept is incredibly simple and any electronics nut would find this overly simplistic in design. But that's also the beauty of it and this simplicity greatly aids in the troubleshooting process. more on that later

Water pressure is provided by the tap, by way of a garden hose. It is then diverted into four equal paths which are stopped by a solenoid valve. The solenoid valve is controlled by a simple momentary 12v push-button switch, which the child will press to activate the water functions. Each path is independently controlled by an individual button and all four valves can be opened simultaneously by pressing all four buttons. Past each valve, water is diverted to the actual output devices, whether they are water jets, modular toys or other outputs. The majority of the output water will be contained within a vessel with a drain at the bottom for easy removal. Each of the four main paths will have optional accessory outputs onto which modular toys can be attached. Electrical power is provided with an enclosed battery so that the whole unit is completely portable (and much safer than using household AC). That's the whole plan in a single paragraph. Now to make it a reality.Parts list

This whole project can be divided into two separate components: structure and function. Everything is either part of the chassis, or related to what makes it tick. So I will separate the two parts lists accordingly. Later in the project you will see additional parts lists for individual modular 'toys' that were added to the base. The following pair of lists are for the water-box itself.Structural components:Functional Components

The electronic bits

The plumbing bits - all from Home Depot unless otherwise specified.Sourcing the materials. There are three different sections that we're cutting for the plywood. The side panels and bottom panel are cropped at the corners for style, as well as function. The hidden joints I chose for the chassis sit inside the same channels that the wood panels occupy. This means that I would need to make room for these by cutting an ugly notch in the wood, or by doing something more tasteful like a cropped corner. The size that I went with for the crop just happened to be the exact size of my cheap 45° drafting square. This made for a nice template which I used for all of the cuts on the 1/8" plywood. All of the pieces came from Home Depot slightly off size and I had to trim very small amounts off of the sides in order to make them square. I don't own a table saw so I had to make do with my circular saw. Cutting 1/8" to 1/16" off of a 1/8" thick plywood with a 1/8" thick saw blade without a rip fence wasn't very easy. I thank my older brother for tips on setting up my saw to make this possible. Lopping the corners offf of the pieces was much easier. I simply drew on the template and chopped it off with the circular saw. All edges were then sanded smooth with 80 & 120 grit sandpaper. The top panel also needed to be shaved down to exact measurements. After I had a near-perfect 39" square, I needed to cut the hole in the middle. I wanted 5" of border around each side of the tub for strength and to provide a stable surface for the external accessory connectors. This meant an internal circle of 29" cut into the very center of the square. To draw this out, I simply drilled two holes 14.5" apart inside a thin piece of wood and used this as my compass. One hole was placed in the middle of my panel around which I rotated the compass, drawing the circle. Next, I drilled a pilot hole near the internal edge of the circle so I could fit my jigsaw blade into the panel. I then carefully cut out the circle, supporting both the panel and the cutout as I sawed. The cutout was trimmed up and sanded to complete the cut. Finally, the panels needed to have their holes drilled for the 4 buttons and 2 accessory connectors. All of these were drilled with a spade bit. The buttons used a 3/4" bit and the accessory holes required a 1/2" bit for the pipe. Each hole was slightly bored out with a rotary rasp. I went with a single color for the project, choosing "Buzz Lightyear Blue" from the Disney color collection at Home Depot. The first step is to prime the surface with a heavy duty outdoor-rated primer. I chose Kilz Premium for it's superior commercials and excellent labeling. It also had prime product placement on the shelves at Home Depot which really influenced my decision. Sarcasm aside, apparently this stuff is really good so go with it. I put two coats of primer on all of the side panels and three coats on the top panel. To keep things somewhat smooth, I did a light sanding with 200 grit paper between coats. The final coat was sanded with 400 grit. I let the primer dry overnight before continuing with the enamel. Again, the sides received two coats of paint and the top got three. We were planning on repainting the patio in a couple of weeks so I didn't bother with drop cloths. But I would suggest using these in most environments. One thing to note - oil based enamel takes forever to dry. It holds up very well against the sun and water but it really needs to set for a month. I didn't want to wait that long so I just dealt with the occasional paint spot on my hands/clothing. The final step was to apply the varnish. I wanted this to be as glossy as possible so I bought a quart of high gloss spar urethane from Minwax. The same process was repeated - two coats on the sides and three on the top. This whole painting process took a little less than a week due to drying time between all of the coats. Assembling the 80/20 15-series components couldn't be any easier. They describe their product as the "Erector set for grown-ups" and I totally agree. You Instructables people need to check out their catalog because you'll get so many ideas for projects. As soon as I made my first connection, I was hooked. I later called up my product design specialist at 80/20 and told him about this and he laughed, saying, "Yeah, it's kind of addictive isn't it?" Anyway, building with this thing is different than most metal fabrication you'll find. It really is like using an erector set or Kinex. The one thing that's common with all construction techniques is the need to accurately measure. Past that, it's just tightening down some hex screws and assembling the pieces into place. Once the pieces are in place, I was able to do a couple of dry fits with my panels. This thing was starting to come together. I incorrectly assumed that the hardest work was behind me. It's just a few bits of electronics & light plumbing now, right?(-) Battery () -> Fuse -> Breakout bundle ->

Push-button switch -> Solenoid (-) back to battery

Push-button switch -> Solenoid (-) back to battery

Push-button switch -> Solenoid (-) back to battery

Push-button switch -> Solenoid (-) back to battery

It's all very simple. Once the lines are measured out and cut, the connectors can be crimped to the ends and hooked up to the components. Testing is easy enough, press the button and you should hear the solenoid valve open up. Now we know it works.

The battery is good for 7.2 amp hours which means I have enough juice, in a perfect world, to last for about 10 hours. That's if all four buttons were held down, all at the same time, for ten hours straight. That's not going to happen very often. So we should have plenty of power all Summer long. Things are about to get really tight. If you left yourself sufficient slack on the jets it won't be as bad for you as it was for me. But I'm getting ahead of myself. The very first thing that you need to do before completing the tub is to finish the four sides. Since the top panel rests above all four sides and the top horizontal rails, all sides must be complete before we can continue. Up until now we had all sorts of freedom to work on the plumbing and tubes because the sides weren't in the way. With the sides assembled, our room to move is very effectively diminished. It gets much worse with the top on. The top sides use gusset joints for additional support. These are best assembled all at once so that you can move around the sides and install the top rails with the joints ready to go. Each joint consists of five parts: two bolts, two t-slot nuts and one gusset. Assemble these by placing one bolt through the gusset hole. Loosely attach one of the nuts to the bolt, leaving plenty of room for movement. Repeat the process with the next hole. These nuts will slide into the top rails as well as the vertical legs. Slide a gusset joint onto the rails, one on each end. After all four rails are completed, we're ready to install the wood. Insert a wood panel into a t-slot channel on both sides and press it down until it hits the bottom. The wood might have warped a little bit from the paint so you may need to press it in or out to make it line up with the bottom slot. Press it down until the wood is properly seated into three channels. Now we can install the top rail. On one side, slide the gusset joint all the way over until it is at the end of the rail with the vertical nut facing down. Press the nut into the vertical channel but don't drop it in all the way yet. Continue on the other side so that both joints are properly sitting inside the channels. Now, press down on the rail and fit its channel over the top of the wood panel. Ensure that it is flush with the two vertical legs before tightening all of the bolts. There isn't much room here so tightening the bolts will be time consuming without a ratcheting hex wrench. After all four bolts are tight and the rails are flush with the legs, this side is complete. Rotate around to the next side and repeat the process. Now we have finally completed the chassis! Strong and sturdy - just what we need. Take a step back and admire the work but don't waste too much time because there's a lot of annoying work left. With the plumbing all assembled and secure in the frame below, we move on to the tub connections. The problem is, we have no more room to work. The tub sits inside the top panel and the panel on top of the now enclosed box. This makes it very difficult to reach underneath and make all of the tubing connections. I found that almost all of my connections could be made by rotating the top 45 degrees so that 4 corners are opened up. You can also raise the top panel slightly to give a little extra room. All of this depends on how much slack you left yourself on the tubing. I had a good amount on 14 of my 16 tubes so I saved those last short connections to the very end. Carefully reach into the exposed openings and connect the ends of the jet tubes to the proper barbed fittings which are on the end of the manifolds. I found that the 1/8" barbs properly held the tubing without any difficulty. The 1/4" barbs occasionally blew the tubing off, so I made sure to clamp the tubes with a worm-drive clamp. The 1/2" accessory joints DEFINITELY need a clamp as these blow off with even a single jet. We don't want there to be much water spray underneath the tub. Work your way around and connect all of the tubes. Finish the connections by hooking up the buttons to their respective valves. One positive goes to the valve and the negative goes to the negative line. These should be waiting for you, as described at the end of step 9. When everything is complete, rotate the top back into place. We are now ready for the last round of leak testing. First, press each button and listen for a faint click coming from the solenoid valves. Go ahead and hook up your garden hose to the fitting underneath the chassis. Lift the top of one side so that you can take a peak inside. Turn on the hose and look for any new leaks from the main plumbing assembly. Check to see that the solenoids hold properly without any leaks. Passing those full-pressure tests, move on to the button tests. Press one button and ensure that all the proper jets fire. Check below to see if any tubes are loosened off their barbs or need to be reset. If you clamped the 1/4" and 1/2" barbs there shouldn't be any tubes that fly off. Proceed with the rest of the buttons and follow the above tests. Past this, we're pretty home free. Now onto the modular toys.Shower Head Toy (x2)

Tape up both sides of the nipple and then thread one end into the FPT end of the shower head. We can now install the shower head into any of our accessory connectors.Expanding Rubber Glove

First, bunch up the rubber glove's opening and stuff it through the hose clamp. Next, shove the barbed connector into the opening. Tighten the clamp around the barbed fitting. Apply plumber's tape on the threaded end. Snip a small opening on the end of each finger for spray and pressure relief. We can now install this into any of the accessory connectors.Rubber hose misting squid

This is another toy that's basically pre-built. Simply cut off six lengths of the surgical tube and install them into the manifold. Next, install the 360 degree misting nozzles into the other ends of the tubing. Apply plumber's tape onto both ends of the flexible sprinkler neck. Install one end into the pipe fitting of the manifold. The other end will plug into any of the accessory connectors.Water-balloon filler

This is clearly the easiest 'toy' to create. Simply wrap the threaded end with plumber's tape and you're done. Now if the kids want to have an easy place to fill up water balloons, plug this into one of the component connectors and water will shoot out of it into your water balloons when the proper button is pressed.Vertical 'rain stick' and ring toss

Assemble the three components and seal them with PVC cement. Next, drill holes all over the stick to create spray nozzles. You can use larger and smaller drill bits if you want to have variety. I found it easier to just drill like crazy all over the sticks. Apply plumber's tape onto the threaded end. This can now be installed into any of the accessory connectors. If mounted on the outside, it makes a great target for a ring toss.

The next 'toy' was the most ambitious and it all started with a simple idea. This whole concept came towards the end when I was describing some of my planned toys to a friend of mine. One of the proposed toys was a tipping bucket feature like they have at most major water parks. I knew that I could get the physics of the tipping bucket right, but I was not sure about the method for suspending the contraption above the kids. He and I brainstormed on this for a little while and came up with a pretty nice solution. This last piece is a completely self-contained toy which happens to fit perfectly on top of the splash-pod. This toy expands the accessory connectors by four, depending on how it is hooked up. All output connections are 1/2" FPT, just like the standard accessory connectors. This means that any of my toys can plug into this toy, and I have even more room for upgrades. As soon as I came up with the basic form for the chassis, I realized that this could do a lot more than just the tipping buckets. I had an earlier idea for a pinwheel toy and this was a perfect opportunity to create it. I went with hose pipe thread for the input for two reasons. First, the free-spinning hose pipe thread connector allows me to connect a hose to the external accessory connectors without any trouble. If I went with a standard 1/2" female pipe thread instead, I'd have a problem with counter-spinning a hose with dual 1/2" MPT ends. If you hooked up the chassis on one end, you would have to spin the hose the opposite direction in order to hook it up on the other. A free-spinning connector resolves this conflict. I hook up the input hose to an external accessory connection and then the other end goes into the external chassis. This easily connects because the free-spinning connector threads right onto it. The second reason is even cooler - by using hose pipe thread, this toy will work completely independent of the splash-pod. If the kids want to use this as a quick water toy, all I have to do is hook up a hose. And again, all of my current (and future) toys will plug right in. And... to get the ultimate in wet fun, I can run a SECOND water hose into the top assembly while the splash pod receives its own input. The top will then be 'always on' but holy crap it's a lot of water this way. Picture #2 shows a simple MSPaint drawing of the assembly. Standard PVC construction techniques were used here so I won't go over that again. The dimensions are basically whatever the top surface of your water toy will be. Since mine is a 39" square toy, each of the 'grip arms' that straddle the side must be properly spaced. This was easily figured out by doing a quick dry-fit before I made any cuts. When this assembly receives water pressure, the entire setup fills up with water. This is why I used valves on the middle arms and plugs inside the grip arms. This forces water to go exactly where I want it. If I'm using the arms which hold the tipping water bucket, I'll cut off the flow of the water and these middle arms become structural components, not water features.

Required Parts:

Required parts:Well, I don't know where to begin. This was a monster project. I tried to write this up as best I could to come off as if it was a very organized and well-thought out project plan. This was absolutely not the case. I had an idea and a budget... and a really understanding wife. The budget was more than doubled and the idea was expanded so far beyond what I initially expected. The whole thing was just supposed to be a little tub with jets, right? When did tipping buckets and fire hoses become necessary? And, oh man, if you all knew the ideas that I had to scrap because of time and budget reasons. Left to my own devices, this would have blown out of control. This project became far too important to me and it definitely caused a lot of stress. I mentioned my hatred for Home Depot earlier and I feel I should spend a little more time on this since it's specifically caused by poor project planning. Nearly every time I went into that store I received great customer service and occasionally some outstanding ideas for problems I was experiencing with my designs. My problem was that I couldn't stop with one trip. In fact, from the day that I received my 80/20 components, I made 52 trips to Lowes or Home Depot. That's in an 8-week period. This is the reason why I have to take a break from home improvement warehouses. We aren't even doing any gardening around our home because that would require a trip to either store. I just can't bring myself to go back in there. Proper planning could have avoided this. I definitely got in over my head here. Several weeks ago, my wife asked me if I would do this over again if I knew then what I know now. My answer is yes, but only because I wouldn't make the same mistakes. There was a LOT of wasted material, probably over $150 in scrap. I initially went with pressure-treated lumber for the top panel, but pressure-treated lumber is CRAP and it was a terrible choice. My original buttons were in no way water-proof and all of my efforts to make them weather resistant totally failed. Then there is the giant bag of PVC and copper fittings that I'm left with. Maybe I'll make a sculpture someday. Who knows? The point is that this was not thought out. I had my idea and I was going to make it happen one way or another. The results are fantastic. People say that the Starfield Ceiling is way better in person than the video shows. I feel the same with the Splash-Pod. Everyone laughs and loves the effect; it is MUCH wetter than the videos make it seem. My entire yard is completely drenched after a few minutes of play. It is a great toy. But this was work. My biggest piece of advice for anyone attempting a project like this is to fully plan every factor and answer every question before starting. I didn't do this and I knew it. I ordered the tub and the aluminum before I even knew how I was going to mount it. My wife came up with the hole in the wood panel idea. I asked 80/20 to tap the ends before I even knew if I could get casters in the size they were tapping. Most glaring (and still unsolved) is the fact that my battery will eventually run out of juice and I didn't design a recharging system (I'm planning on taking it out and topping it off every year). I knew I had all of these issues to overcome but I just assumed that I would solve them as I went. Holy crap, do not do this. Do not go forward with a plan unless every loose end is covered; every question is answered. I have to spend a whole paragraph to cover my wife's contributions to this project. She is really responsible for 50% of the design here because of her ability to think outside of the box. She doesn't have any background in engineering or mechanical design like me, but she follows along incredibly well. Every single time I ran into a problem with plumbing, structure, mechanics or toys I could bounce ideas off of her and she nearly always came up with the solution you see here. The fire hose - hers. Cross-fire jets - hers. Tub mounting system (hole in top) - hers. Water-balloon filler - hers. This toy would not exist in any form if I didn't have her support. So for that, I thank you. And I'll thank her for my two daughters who don't know to thank her yet. This was definitely a family effort. My dad was a huge help by answering tons of design questions on electronics and plumbing ideas, from the very beginning. My older brother Paul helped me out with questions on wood-working and paint. My older sister Molly helped by creating the overview video on page 1. My baby sister Erin helped me with this guide. And my mom fostered my early love for water that carried over into my own children. Thanks to all of you =) Anyway... I think that's it. I wish that I could show you all this thing in person because it's so much more fun that way. Stay tuned because I'm definitely adding more toys and accessories to it as time goes on and I have tons of more project ideas for my growing family. I hope you enjoyed the Instructable. -Mike

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